The Black Woman: An Anthology
The cover of The Black Woman shows an image of the Black woman that was unhampered by negative stereotypes, thus creating a space in the anthology for its authors and readers to feel their voices are truly represented. The choice to feature a closely cropped image of a Black woman, which fills the majority of the space, defied stereotypical and negative images of Black women, narratives that were created by white authors. Her black racial identity is emphasized in multiple aspects of this cover. For one, she wears a large Afro that extends beyond the limits of the page. This anthology also features a black cover – a defining feature of the books in the Black Arts Movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s – that draws a clearly defined line that separates the background from the curves and edges of the figure (Crawford 189). This focuses our attention on her facial features and highlights her skin color, which is softly illuminated by a light coming in from the left side. In the upper right corner, the title is featured in a bold, neat, and white font, with the subtitles in a thinner, white font, which details clearly the contents inside. This positioning of the text to the upper right corner draws our attention back to the woman’s facial features and her piercing eyes.
The cover seems plain and simple. But considering the negative images of Black women in contemporary society, this honest and straightforward view of the Black woman is effective in counteracting previous stereotypical depictions. One such image was that of the mammy figure, Aunt Jemima, who was written by and for a southern white audience during the time of slavery. This mammy figure is “black in color, fat, nurturing, religious, kind, above all strong [and] enduring” (Christian, Black Feminist Criticism 2). The image and physicality of an Aunt Jemima who was unequivocally giving was essential in providing white folks, particularly white women, comfort in containing their fears of the “gross physical aspects of being female” (Christian, Black Feminist Criticism 2).
One way in which they combated these negative stereotypes, African-American women writers created heroines in their works as these images’ antitheses. However, in creating this positive ideal, many Black women had to deal with the tension of never attaining this internalized image. Thus, Black women authors shifted to create more genuine and multifaceted portrayals of their identities and everyday lives (Christian, Black Feminist Criticism 175). This cover on The Black Woman stands as a testament to this goal in its simplicity and focus on this woman’s racial identity.
What is most discerning about this image of the Black woman is her gaze. The focus of the gaze is made even more apparent with the exclusion of this woman’s body. In that regard, the exclusion of the woman’s body on the cover is intentional and implies that the Black woman’s physicality does not matter in comparison to how she defines herself, a direct challenge to the image of Aunt Jemima whose physicality was her main feature. In focusing mainly on her gaze, we realize that she is staring directly at us readers. She challenges us to see her and not as a stereotype. Specifically, to Black women readers, however, this gaze is not only a challenge but also an invitation to build connection and community. Editor Toni Cade Bambara reflects on community building in her preface to the anthology:
Bambara’s quote shows that her work aims at unifying Black women while also acknowledging that this unification will not be an easy task but “a hardheaded attempt” in challenging patriarchy in their own ideology. Bambara uses intimate language, like "touch" and "unify," as her primary means to draw a connection to her audience. Like the gaze, this use of intimate diction suggests that because society had marginalized them, it was even more important than ever for Black women to love and validate one another in the face of race, class, and gender oppression. She also shows this back-and-forth interaction between investing and deriving strength in one another. Thus, by embracing one another, Black women are building their own political power that society strips away.
What characterizes the current movement of the 60’s is a turning away from the larger society and a turning toward each other. [...] Our energies now seem to be invested in and are in turn derived from a determination to touch and to unify. What typifies the current spirit is an embrace, an embrace of the community and a hardheaded attempt to get basic with each other. (Bambara, “Preface” 7)
This unique exchange and communication between Black women is also explained by literary critic Barbara Christian. As a reader and writer, Christian explains the experience of writing for as well as reading works by other Black women:
Christian’s quote reveals how Black women’s writing involves an intimate interaction between its audience and the reader. To look into the eyes of this woman on the cover of the anthology, for a Black woman, is to be seen and validated. She invites her audience of Black women to experience the anthology alongside the authors and actively engage in the conversation, thus creating a community that they would not otherwise find in writing by authors who were not Black women. Christian's usage of the phrase "to ourselves" connotes a double meaning in that Christian is saying "we are important" to a community of Black women but also just to herself. Therefore, in interacting with these works, Black women not only lift each other but find their own strength in this process. Not only that but Christian understands that if they are silent, the voices of other people who have more power will get to control their narratives. Thus, Black women would lose their own power and agency to define themselves. This necessity to speak is paired along with the necessity to speak to one another. Christian reveals that if Black women do not fight for one another, no one else will. This sentiment is reminiscent of Bambara's Preface in that Christian and Bambara understand the importance of building each other up because Black women are the only ones they can rely on. The cover of this anthology captures the need for Black women to see each other and to build community and power.
“If black women don’t say who they are, other people will and say it badly for them,” I say, as I remember Audre Lorde’s poem about the deadly consequences of silence. “Silence is hardly golden,” I continue. “If other black women don’t answer back, who will? When we speak and answer back we validate our experiences. We say we are important, if only to ourselves.” (Christian, Black Feminist Criticism xii)
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- The Black Woman: An Anthology 1st Edition